Handling Custody and Visitation During COVID-19 Lockdown

On March 31, a stay at home order was issued by Governor Doug Ducey with the intention of slowing the spread of the COVID19 virus. This order went into effect immediately and since schools were closed, many people were suddenly juggling working at home, full-time parenting, and distance learning for their children. Unfortunately, it also caused problems for parents across Arizona who are sharing custody and visitation with children.

Child Visitation Court Orders Must Be Followed

For most divorced couples, there are court ordered visitations and custody. While the courts are no in “physical” session, these court ordered visitations and all issues pertaining to custody matters are in full force and effect.

The Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) issued a statement that all visitations for children in their custody would be conducted via teleconferences through at least April 30. However, this does not apply to families where parents are sharing custody, or where there are certain visitation schedules in place through the courts.

Communication is Crucial Between Parents

During this challenging time, communicating with your former spouse may be the best option available to you. Some of the challenges you should be addressing include:

  • Risk factors — if one of you is still employed as an essential employee, what are the risks of being exposed to COVID19? If this is the case, it may be a good time to consider remote visitations until you are safe from contracting the virus. While children are at a lower risk, this does not mean they are not facing risks.
  • Financial realities — make sure you have a discussion as parents about any financial limitations you have which could impact your ability to provide a safe haven for your children including purchasing food and any medicine they may need.
  • Outside activities — have an open discussion about activities which your child may be involved in during their visitation with their parent. Make sure if they are going to playgrounds they are remaining physically distanced from others on the playground and that proper hygiene after being in these areas is being followed.

Courts Have Issued Some Guidance to Parents

Thankfully, parents do not have to go this alone. In addition to some common sense measures, the courts have issued some guidance which you should review if you are in this position. Remember, the courts remain available to offer intervention should something be out of the ordinary.

School Break Visitation Schedules

One thing that is important to remember is the fact that while the schools are closed down for this pandemic, this is not considered a “standard” school break and therefore, the typical plans for visitation should apply. However, when the breaks are part of the school calendar, those visitation schedules should be adhered to by the parents.

No Rights to Withhold Visitation

It is important to keep in mind, neither parent has the right to cease allowing visitation. However, the courts have also indicated that should a parent have a COVID19 diagnosis, be informed they were exposed to the virus, or were in an area where there was an outbreak then plans should be altered accordingly for a period of at least 14 days.

Should a parent be unable to visit because of exposure, the other parent should take steps to ensure the child has regular contact with the other parent during this difficult and challenging time. Thankfully, technology offers many options including Facetime, Zoom, and other similar platforms where the child can both talk to and see their other parent.

Supervised Visits, Pickups and Drop Offs

One challenge a parent may be facing is those cases where they have been ordered to drop off or pick up a child in a supervised setting. Because these drop off and pick up times often occur at local coffee shops or restaurants, and they are current closed parents may be wondering what options are open to them. In these cases, parents may wish to reach out to a local police or fire station to arrange the time for such supervision.

Supervised visits are far more challenging since they often require a third party to be available during the visit. According to the guidance issued to the courts, these visits may occur with the parent who has primary custody, with them acting as the “supervisor” or the assigned supervisor may be able to attend. If this is not a feasible option, then the parenting time could take place via electronic means.

Keeping Children Engaged with Parents

As you can see from the guidelines issued by the courts, the big takeaway is making sure children keep engaged with both parents during this difficult time. In the event there is a need to not see parents face-to-face, then communication should be arranged electronically, and parents should discuss options for make up time once this crisis abates.

When Parents Cannot Agree

This is an exceedingly difficult time for everyone. There is additional stress placed on both parents who may be navigating unemployment or work at home routines for the first time. Children will not be returning to school which means their schedules are disrupted and many may not understand why they cannot see their friends or go to the local playground. The added stress all of us are under often leads to disagreements which may seem impossible to overcome, particularly when it comes to visitation and parenting time.

If you are concerned about your child’s safety, if you and your former spouse cannot agree on a reasonable alternative when there are health concerns, or if your former spouse is withholding visitation, there is help available. While the courts are no officially open for business, they are still conducting business and they are available to hear cases pertaining to visitation and shared custody matters.

If you are facing challenges with parenting time, joint custody matters, or visitation schedules and you find it impossible to reach a satisfactory arrangement with your former spouse, contact DeShon Laraye Pullen PLC at 602-252-1968 or 480-524-1540 and let us help you get this matter resolved satisfactorily. Stay safe and well.

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